Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg Sesquicentennial


Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863

I don't often do little timely posts like this, but this seemed too important not to acknowledge. As most of
you are probably aware, we are in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Today (June 3, 2013) happens to be the 150th anniversary of the final day of the three-day ordeal of the Battle of Gettysburg. I call attention to this sesquicentennial not just to be able to use the word sesquicentennial, which I happen to think is a pretty cool word. I don't want to write up a history of the battle, which many other much more qualified people have done. Suffice it to say, it was a pretty big deal.

We were more than two years into the war by that point. Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided that if he could only bring the war to the north, win a few battles and maybe take a city or two, the northern populace would grow as tired of the conflict as the southerners, who had already seen it up close, had. In June 1863 he moved his army up through western Maryland and into southern Pennsylvania, meeting the Union Army of Gen. George G. Meade (promoted three days earlier) near the small town of Gettysburg. The three day battle that ensued didn't end the war, but it did help to make clear that ultimately, the Union would prevail.

On July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, the once-quiet fields and hills around Gettysburg played host to the largest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere. More Americans fought and died here than in any other battle in history. Over 150,000 soldiers took part in the battle, and more than 30,000 were killed or wounded. The victory by the Union forces pushed the Confederates back into Maryland and Virginia, ending Gen. Lee's hopes of a successful Northern Campaign -- and ultimately his chances of winning the war.

I bring up this anniversary here for two reasons. First, I think it's an important moment to remember, and a good excuse to call to mind the unbelievable bravery and sacrifice of thousands of Americans. (Even those fighting to tear the country apart, but I'll try to keep this as a historical post, not a political one.) Secondly, there does seem to have been a small MCH story to tell, too. In his book Hockessin: A Pictorial History, Joseph Lake recounts an amazing fact. Several older MCH residents, years after the fact, stated that they could actually hear the battle as it was going on. From at least the areas around Hockessin and Little Baltimore, the low rumble of artillery could be heard in the western summer sky.

It wasn't specified which day or days they were referring to, but my best guess is that it would have been 150 years ago today, on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, around 3 PM. It was then that about 260 cannons, US and Rebel, fired upon each other in what may have been the largest artillery battle ever in the western hemisphere. This barrage preceded the famous (or infamous, depending on where you're from) Pickett's Charge, which ended disastrously for the boys in gray and sealed the Union victory. The deafening din of the artillery is known to have been heard in Harrisburg, which is not too much further away than northern MCH. It's entirely possible that Mill Creek Hundred residents heard the battle that afternoon, not knowing how many thousands were giving "the last full measure of devotion" so that our nation might live.

1 comment:

  1. Scott, as a tie-in to this story and the previous article about the National Guard at Brandywine Springs, I'll throw in this little tidbit. James Parke Postles was awarded the Medal of Honor for his act of bravery at the Battle of Gettysburg. There have only been 14 Delawareans who have received this award. In a sad twist of irony, he died some years later when he tripped and fell down the stairs at the present-day Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

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